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Photobooths in Print

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Cover of the book, Les Matons

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On 19 June 1988 in a photobooth at a Barcelona railway station, ​​artists Hélène Fabre and Christian Bonifas made a series of souvenir photos without thinking further than the pleasure of the moment.

Once home in Nîmes, having been amused by their holiday mementos, they sought out another station hall booth. So began their long infatuation with automatic photography.
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After twenty-five years and more than 1500 portraits they still haunt these mini studios to capture their moods, movements and ideas.

Since 1989, under the pseudonym Les Matons they have exhibited these portraits as enlarged color photocopies.

In 2007, they published their first book, a self-titled paperback showcasing a selection of one hundred booth photographs in black & white and colour. (See cover and sample images from the book, above). With accompanying texts by Clotilde Augot, Rémy Leboissetier, Christine Rodes and Bertrand Guery and a song by Frederic Inigo, it is an ode to the Photomaton machine and the variety of creative uses to which it can be put.

Over 136 pages Hélène and Christian dress-up for, laugh, grimace, writhe and twist through fun and surprising poses that are delightfully entrancing. The artistic perspective of these two performers fills every frame.

In 2013, they released a new book, “Small Nature” which presents sixty-four new photobooth pictures. I will write more about Les Matons and show you some images from that book in a later post.

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This is a page from Meags Fitzgerald’s book Photobooth A Biography, which I recently reviewed in this post. As you can see, I made it into the book as did some other enthusiasts and artists involved with photobooth photo making, collecting and preservation.

Below is the original photo from which Meags did her drawing of me. It was taken in Chapel Street in Prahran, Melbourne on 11 August 2011.

In the coming weeks I will showcase some of the work of the other people pictured here. I am looking forward to sharing their works with you.

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Cover Image-Photobooth A Biography- WEB

I have been accused by many of being overly obsessed with taking photos in photobooths, having amassed hundreds of strips, taken over a period of 40 years. Some have said my dogged desire to track down and buy books about photobooths, photobooth artists and the history of photobooths is a strange compulsion. However my passion looks more like a passing fancy when one reads of the intense and personal relationship Meags Fitzgerald has with the subject in her newly released, first book Photobooth – A Biography.

In this non-fiction graphic work, Fitzgerald weaves the story of her developing and ultimately all-consuming love for all things related to photobooths, with the history of the invention of the modern chemical machine, its rise in popular use, popular culture, art, and business. The demise, and possible extinction of the once endemic machines is also documented in a staggeringly personal and emotional roller coaster of a story told through illustrations laid out in blend of bande dessinée, manga and modern graphic novel styles.

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Her personal journey is expertly woven into and becomes part of the story of Siberian immigrant to the USA, Anatol Josepho’s efforts to invent an automated photography machine, his success, the spread and development of his idea and the fate of the machines. While it is a formal examination of the subject, personal observations and anecdotes written in the style of a travel journal, (for she travelled extensively to do the research for the book) make the work far more interesting than a standard history of any subject could be.

Meags (pronounced “Megs”) has produced richly detailed drawings that highlight her skill as a designer and artist. There is a theatricality in the illustrations, layout and design of the book that shows an influence from her love of improvisation theatre. Her  background in performance theatre is also seen in her photobooth stop-motion films in which she performs.

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She includes interviews with artists, small business owners, technicians, enthusiasts, authors and promoters of all things photobooth, who also have a dedication to using and preserving the machines that use the “dip and dunk” chemical technology. She also documents the many different types of photobooth machines that have existed and their different types of output and looks at the technical side of owning and maintaining a chemical booth.

She communicates a gentle and self-effacing humour about her obsession with photobooths yet, at times, there is a level of despair at the inevitable fate of the machines. The book concludes with a grudging acceptance that she is unable to stem the tide of change, but also with hope that the passion we in the photobooth community have for our subject, will see a different life develop for the machines in the future.

Photobooth – A Biography was published by Conundrum Press, Canada and is available in bookshops worldwide and from online booksellers.

Here are some links to more posts about Meags Fitzgerald on Photobooth Journal.

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Photobooths were invented by Anatol Josepho in 1925.  They were an immediate success in his adopted home of New York City. When he sold the invention in 1927 it rapidly spread across the USA and the world.  As early as 1929 advertisements like these were appearing in many newspapers around Australia. It is a surprise to me that the Photomaton company found its way here so quickly.

In the 1970s it took more than two years to get Doctor Who episodes to Oz, yet in the 1920s, this lumbering hunk of technology arrived in faster time. And faster time is what this machine promises. Six perfect portraits, six different poses, in six minutes.  In the days when most photographers were struggling to get photos back to clients within one week, to wait only six minutes was nothing short of miraculous.

“If you are one of those people who do not take a good photograph, try the Photomaton way. They are natural and lifelike and they do not fade.” I can attest to that. Having numerous photobooth examples from the 20s and 30s which have lasted better than family photos from the 1980s, this was no idle boast.

This advertisement, for booths at two Woolworths stores in Brisbane, was published in the Brisbane Courier, on the 9th of October 1929.

My apologies for the poor quality of the image, which was taken directly from the Trove online resources website, of the Australian National Library.

Believe it or not there are many books out there that discuss photobooth photos, machines and photobooth art. Generally they are surveys of that genre of photography, covering the work or collections of numerous people in one volume. Occasionally they’re a record of photos made at an event or from a specific installation of a machine in a public place. It is quite unusual to find a monograph of photobooth photos, showcasing a series of works by one artist. The PhotoboothFacial Hair by Dutch photographer, Daniel Heikens is one such book.

These days, it is within the hands of anyone to produce their own publication. The marvellous medium of online book publishing, at sites such as Blurb and Lulu, can be a great tool in skilled hands. Through the experience of having bought a few of these self-published works, I can tell you it is very much an exercise in trust.  You cannot tell who has skilled hands until you’ve done your cash. One can never be sure what will be inside, when that little brown package is delivered.

Daniel published his work through Blurb, so I was apprehensive about what I’d be getting when I placed my order. However, I was very pleasantly surprised when my copy of the book arrived. The high quality production is short, at just 24 pages, but satisfying in its varied mix of documentary and creative photos.

The real Daniel?

In trying to discover more about the techniques he used to get the atmospheric and varied pictures in the book, I wrote to him for some more information. He told me that he did not manipulate a thing. “The strange artifacts you see in some of the shots are just some malfunctions of the machine… Old developer, and even some polarisation sometimes. The machine must have a light leak somewhere during the developing process.”

The modest statement at the front of the book, that it documents the growth of his facial hair over three weeks “That’s really all I want to show“, belies the complexity of some of the images, whether deliberate or not. Despite these ostensibly being photographs of the same individual, Daniel has created different characters through the use of props and poses. These “personalities” are enhanced by multiple ambiances created through the serendipity of the photobooth process.

From a windswept fisherman, a chilling Ku Klux Klan’s man, and a jazz dude, to pictures reminiscent of old police mug shots, the characters cascade from the pages. Sometimes we spot the real Daniel, gazing serenely at us. Then there are the Daniel-less, painterly strips, where one could imagine Rothko having had a hand, if it were not for the knowledge that each frame was a product of a camera.

And throughout the works Daniel’s moustache and beard grow luxuriantly. I wonder if this book could be used as a fundraiser for the mighty month of Movember? *

Living and working in the Netherlands, Daniel created this series in the booth at the RayKo Photo Center in San Francisco, while holidaying in California.

You can see more of the book and Daniel’s other works here.

A Boohbah!

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*NB Movember is an annual, originally antipodean, month-long event involving the growing of moustaches, (known colloquially in Australia as a “mo”), during the month of November. The Movember Foundation charity runs events to raise awareness and funds for men’s health issues, such as prostate cancer and depression.

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